1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health

This post gives an overview of conditions affecting health in Batley in the year war broke out. It is a mixture of transcripts from the above report, and my summarisation and commentary on other sections of it. It does not cover the complete report, which discusses a wide range of the town’s public health issues, including industrial pollutant factors (including black smoke from the mills), sewerage issues, street cleaning, diseases, death causes, and summaries of inspections of factories, food and housing.

Cover of the 1914 Annual Report

The report on the health of the Borough of Batley was submitted to the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors by Batley’s Medical Officer of Health, George Harper Pearce, in March 1915. The report covers the year 1914. The Medical Officer’s opening remarks included:

The latter five months of this period are memorable as witnessing the outbreak and conduct of the greatest war known to history. In this town the residents have been singularly fortunate, up to the present, in so much as the poverty and privation generally associated with such circumstances has failed to materialise. The trade in articles manufactured here and necessary for warlike purposes has been of such an extensive nature that great financial prosperity has resulted, it being generally admitted that at no time in the town’s history has anything approaching the present trade boom been recorded…..

The chief event of the year was the return visit paid to the town by Smallpox

There then followed a summary of statistics for 1914:

Area of Borough (in acres)3,227
Population (estimated) July 1st, 191436,949
Population at Census of 191136,395
Number of families or separate occupiers at Census of 19119,114
Tenements with more than two occupants per room at Census, 1911No: 1,060
Pop: 6,975
Proportion per cent. to population in private families19.3%
Average number of persons per house4.0
Density of Population per acre11.4
Number of Births817 (Males 441, Females 376)
Birth Rate per 1,000 living22.1
Number of Deaths, including residents who died outside Batley564 (Males 282, Females 282)
Net Death Rate per 1,000 living15.2
Death Rate per 1,000 of residents who died within the district13.2
Infantile Death Rate per 1,000 births149
Tuberculosis Death Rate (all forms) per 1,000 of Population1.7
Phthisis Death Rate per 1,000 of Population1.2
Zymotic Death Rate per 1,000 of Population1.2
Respiratory Disease Death Rate per 1,000 of Population (excluding Phthisis)2.7
Cancer Death Rate per 1,000 of Population1.0
Number of Cases of Infectious Disease notified under the Infectious Disease Notification Act, 1889193
Number of Cases of Pulmonary Tuberculosis notified89
Number of Cases of other forms of Tuberculosis notified43
Rateable Value£146,576
Rate of 1d. in £1 produces£567
Rainfall in inches28.62
Number of wet days179

The report continued:


Batley is a municipal borough situated in the West Riding of Yorkshire, eight miles south of Leeds and about an equal distance from Bradford.

The London and North Western and Great Northern Railway Companies have a joint station and both companies have a line from Batley to Leeds, the former passing through Morley and the latter running through Woodkirk and Beeston. The Great Northern Railway Company also gives access to Bradford and provides frequent communication with London, whilst the London and North Western Railway Company affords direct communication with Manchester and Liverpool. The Yorkshire (Woollen District) Electric Tramways Ltd., provide a service by which it is easy to reach Bradford, Dewsbury, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike, Birstall, Wakefield, etc. The Leeds City tramways come to within a short distance of the Borough boundary.

The parish of Batley includes the hamlets of Brownhill, Carlinghow, Clark Green, Havercroft, Chapel Fold, Healey, Staincliffe, White Lee, Upper Batley, Kilpin Hill, Purlwell, and part of Batley Carr.

The town was constituted a municipal borough by Royal Charter, on the 8th December, 1868, and is governed by a Mayor, seven Aldermen, and twenty Councillors, and is divided into four Wards.

The Borough has a separate Commission of the Peace.

Geologically, Batley is situated mostly upon clay, under which is sandstone, through which is reached the various beds of coal. The situation is fairly hilly, most of the town being built upon rising ground, with a valley running through it. The highest point in the Borough is near the old Windmill, Upper Batley, being 475 feet above sea level. The lowest point is near Jack Lane, Bradford Road, Batley Carr, it being 150 feet above sea level. A peculiar feature is the fact that 450 feet above sea level is the height which is common to most of the landmarks seen from the lower lying parts of the Borough, viz. :- Staincliffe, near the Church, 450; Soothill near the Colliery, 450; Brownhill near the Vicarage, 450; and upper Batley Lane, 450.

Batley is entirely an industrial town. The chief occupations of the inhabitants are the manufacture of heavy woollen goods and the making of shoddy and mungo. The rag trade is also responsible for the employment of a large proportion of the inhabitants. The bulk of the workers find employment in the numerous mills in the town both males and females following their occupation there. It is quite usual for husbands and wives to work together at the same mill. The rest of the workers amongst the population of the Borough find employment in the coal mines – a large proportion of miners residing in the town – at ironworks, on the railway, as teamers, general labourers, etc. More females than males are employed in textile manufacturing.

The report then detailed the occupations undertaken in Batley as follows:


Total Occupied and Unoccupied13,516
Retired or Unoccupied1,579
Engaged in Occupation11,937
General or Local Government136
Defence of the Country3
Professional Occupations and their Subordinate Services246
Domestic Outdoor Service70
Domestic Indoor or other Service61
Merchants, Agents, Accountants; Banking, etc.; Insurance218
Commercial or Business Clerks245
On Railways202
On Roads485
On Seas, Rivers, and Canals2
Dock Labourers, Wharf Labourers, Coalheavers; Coal-Porters, Labourers4
Messengers, Porters, Watchmen (not Railway or Government)96
Others in Conveyance of Men, Goods, or Messages6
Agriculture – On Farms, Woods, and Gardens172
Coal and Shale Mine-workers (including Mine Service)1,744
Others working in and about, and in the products of Mines and Quarries99
General Engineering, and Machine Making550
Iron, Steel, etc. Manufacture; Tools; Dies, etc.; Arms; Misc. Metal Trades51
Electrical Apparatus31
Ships and Boats
Cycles, Coaches, and other Vehicles50
Precious Metals, Jewels, Watches, Instruments, and Games24
Building and Works of Construction661
Wood, Furniture, Fittings and Decorations149
Brick, Plain Tile, Terra-Cotta Makers24
Earthenware, China, Porcelain, Glass Manufacture5
Chemicals, Explosives, Oil, Grease, Soaps, etc.94
Skins, Leather, Saddlery, and Harness43
Printers and Lithographers63
Others in Paper, Prints, Books, and Stationery (excluding Stationers, Booksellers, Publishers, Newspaper Agents, and other Dealers).3
Textile Manufacturers: Wool and Worsted Manufacture3,804
Textile Manufacturers: Other Textile Manufactures160
Textile Bleaching, Printing, Dyeing, etc.294
Boot, Shoe, Slipper, Patten, Clog Makers119
Other Workers in Dress56
Drapers, Linen Drapers, Mercers, Dealers in Dress88
Food, Tobacco, Drink, and Lodging655
General Labourers; Factory Labourers (undefined)113
All other Occupations1,006


Total Occupied } Unmarried
and } Married
Unoccupied } Widowed
Retired or Unoccupied9,282
Engaged } Unmarried
in } Married
Occupations } Widowed
Civil Service, Telegraph, Telephone-Service12
Municipal, Parish, etc. Officers, Hospital and Institution Service9
Midwives, Sick Nurses, Invalid Attendants34
Literary, Scientific, and Political, Art, Music, Drama17
Domestic Indoor Service: In Hotels, Lodging and Eating Houses4
Domestic Indoor Service: Other Domestic Indoor Servants451
Charwomen, Day Girls, Day Servants72
Laundry and Washing Service62
Others engaged in Service21
Commercial, Bank, and Insurance Clerks, Law Clerks29
Agriculture. On Farms, Woods and Gardens4
Metals, Machines, Implements, and Conveyances (including Electrical Apparatus)9
Makers of Jewellery, Watches, Instruments, and Tackle for Sports and Games
Wood, Furniture, Fittings, and Decorations6
Chemicals, Explosives, Oil, Grease, Soap, etc.2
Skins, Leather, Saddlery, and Harness11
Hair and Feathers2
Papers, Prints, Books and Stationery (excluding Stationers, Booksellers, Publishers, Newspaper Agents and other Dealers)19
Textile Manufactures (including Dyeing, etc.,): Wool & Worsted Manufacture3,940
Textile Manufactures (including Dyeing, etc.,): Others328
Drapers, Linen Drapers, Mercers, Dealers in Dress53
Staymakers, Shirtmakers, Seamstresses28
Boot, Shoe, Slipper, Patten, Clog Makers10
Other Workers in Dress10
Food-Dealers, General Shopkeepers, Dealers140
Coffee, Eating, Lodging House Keepers Others 23
Board, Lodging and Dealing in Spiritous Drinks: Others56
All Other Occupations671

The impact of the War on Batley’s industries was positively profound, as the report detailed:

In consequence of the outbreak of the European War in August 1914 the mills in Batley during the latter part of the year were largely engaged in the manufacture of Khaki cloth and other materials for the use of the British troops and their allies. Machinery ran day and night and the conditions in the town were exceedingly prosperous owing to the large amount of work available. The Home Office Regulations as to overtime were relaxed. The following remarks extracted from a newspaper report of the annual meeting of the Batley Chamber of Commerce shew the position with respect to the trade of the town. They were made by the Secretary (Mr. G. C. Harrison) in his Annual Report: – “To find anything like a parallel to the remarkable year which 1914 had proved to be to those engaged in the staple trade and attendant rag and shoddy trades, it was necessary to recall the time and conditions of the Franco-Prussian War. The slight depression in trade which characterised 1913 continued during the first seven months of 1914, and then, after some trying weeks of short time and uncertainty, the whole district entered upon a period of activity, resulting in a total output such as had never previously been approached. Orders for civilian cloths had recently been fairly plentiful but few manufacturers had been able to accept them. At the present time, manufacturers were working their mills to the utmost capacity, and were likely to do for some time to come, as the demand was still great.”

War also brought 62 Belgian Refugees to the town by the year end, received and accommodated by public subscription. St Mary’s welcomed a Catholic priest, Fr Julien Kestelyn.

POPULATION and POPULATION DENSITY: The population of Batley in the 1911 was 36,395. As of the middle of 1914, the Registrar General estimated the town’s population to be 36,949. This is the figure used by the Medical Officer to calculate the various rates quoted in the report. The estimated population of Batley on 31 December 1914 was 37,025.

Using the mid-1914 estimated population figure, Batley’s population density was estimated at 11.4 which equated to 7,296 persons to the square mile. The report explained whenever there are more than 400 persons to the square mile mortality is adversely affected.

HOUSING, OVERCROWDING and CLOSET ACCOMMODATION: The report highlighted that in common with other West Riding of Yorkshire towns back-to-back houses abounded in Batley, the great majority being of this type. Ventilation in these houses was unsatisfactory “and it is now an established fact that the death rate amongst the inhabitants of back-to-back houses is considerably greater than amongst those who occupy through homes

Overcrowding was also common. The Registrar General’s standard considered a room overcrowded if more than two people occupied it. Using the 1911 census as a basis, 6,975 people in Batley lived in conditions of overcrowding. This was 19.3% of the town’s population.

Toilets, referred to as closet accommodation, were another issue in the Borough. As the report stated:

It seems difficult to understand why a working man with his family should be obliged to share a closet with their neighbours when his more fortunately situated fellow citizen would be indignant at such a suggestion being made to him.

Yet, according to the 1913 Report, in Batley the minimum requirement was one to every two houses, and in the large majority of houses occupants shared with the occupants of another house. Apparently public opinion was “not yet ripe in Batley for the insistence of one water closet being provided for each house”.

In previous reports (e.g. 1911) the stated aim was to convert all privy and pail type closets to the more hygienic water type, with the recognition that the water carriage system for disposing of human waste reduced the number of disease outbreaks and deaths. The Borough was steadily working towards this, although householders did object on the grounds of expense and the liability to damage from the effects of winter frosts. Despite these complaints, during 1914 a further 108 privies had been converted to water closets, bringing the total in Batley to 6,719.

But in 1914 the town still had nine pail closets, essentially outhouses with a seat under which a receptacle was placed to collect human waste. The Corporation would then arrange for this so-called ‘night soil’ to be collected regularly. It also had 156 privies. These outside shelters, with rudimentary wooden seats and no running water, were essentially compost heaps of human waste. If they filled up before decomposition took place the waste was dug up for eventual use on the fields. Householders were responsible for arranging this – but it could easily be neglected. The town also had 50 blocks of trough water closets, and the Borough had to employ a man to empty them daily. Besides the expense, they were frequently a source of nuisance especially in warm weather.

WATER SUPPLY: The Borough of Batley was supplied with water from its own reservoirs, Yateholme, Riding Wood and Ramsden, located in the hills near Holmfirth. Within the Borough was Staincliffe Reservoir, a service reservoir to distribute the supply. An additional supply was obtained from the Dewsbury and Heckmondwike Water Board. The Urban District of Soothill Upper was historically supplied with water by the Halifax Corporation, and this continued in 1914. There had been no water supply shortages in 1914.

I’ve written about the history of the town’s water supply in more detail in my post A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town.

HOSPITALS: Batley and District Hospital was established in 1878. Supported by voluntary contributions it contained 45 beds. It had a consulting physician, a consulting surgeon, five honorary medical officers and a honorary radiologist.

Patients suffering from infectious diseases, such as scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhoid fever and small pox, were either sent to either Oakwell Joint Hospital, if they lived in the old Borough of Batley; or Dewsbury Joint Hospital, if they lived in the portion of Batley which was formerly in the Urban District of Soothill Upper.

SCHOOLS: The report stated there were thirteen Elementary Schools containing 29 departments within the Borough of Batley under the control of Batley Education Committee. These were Batley C. E. (parish church), Brownhill C. E., Carlinghow, Field Lane, Healey, Park Road, Purlwell, St Mary’s R. C., Staincliffe C. E, Warwick Road, Gregory Street, Hanging Heaton and Mill Lane. More to come about these in another post.

Hopefully this brief overview provides some background context to the town in which the St Mary’s parishioners lived at the period leading up to, and just after, the outbreak of the War.

I will examine some elements, such as occupation, housing etc. in more detail elsewhere in this study. This will include direct comparisons between St Mary’s and Batley generally.

1. The figures are as quoted in this 1914 report. I have not checked against the census itself. I will be analysing occupational data in a later phase of this one-place study.
2. Ibid

• 1911, 1913 and 1914 Borough of Batley Annual Reports of the Medical Officer of Health, but with a focus on the 1914 report.